If you’ve seen the Netflix series Warrior Nun (and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?!), chances are you’re obsessed with Shotgun Mary. Skillfully portrayed by Chicago native Toya Turner, Mary is the badass character you wish were in every scene (not to mention, someone like that by your side at all times). Turner was inspired by Serena Williams, Angela Bassett, Pam Grier and a little bit of the Terminator, and you can see a blend of each of those influences in her mesmerizing performance. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to speak on the phone with Toya Turner recently and the following is a condensed and edited version of that fun conversation.
Brief Take: Hi Toya! It’s such an honour to speak with you because I loved your portrayal of Shotgun Mary. I thought it was such a nuanced performance and it was all the more impressive because it’s your first series lead role.
Toya Turner: Thank you so much, I appreciate that.
BT: What did you like best about playing this character?
TT: I just loved the action. I’ve always wanted to be an action star and be in that world. It’s always been a dream of mine watching movies growing up, to finally be a part of it feels really nice. And then the fact that she’s really, really badass, that’s just great.
BT: Who are some action stars that you loved when you were growing up?
TT: Oh that’s such a good question! I remember all the ones I loved like Kill Bill and Gladiator. That’s one of my favourite ones because he’s a warrior but he had this beautiful backstory that made him this gentle fighter. Some of the classics like Die Hard, The Matrix, and Bad Boys, which I used to watch with my Dad, we really liked those. There’s a lot, I could probably talk about that all day. [laughs]
BT: I would absolutely be up for that but let’s talk about Warrior Nun. The show addresses faith and why people may or may not feel connected to the Church. Were you a religious person prior to filming? Did the show change how you feel about religion?
TT: When I grew up I was more religious. I went to Lutheran school, I went to Catholic school, I went to Christian school, I went to quite a bit actually, now that I’m talking about it. But now I’m more spiritual. The show definitely touches upon the patriarchy of it all and how a lot of stories miss out on the women being a part of the movement, which seems to be an ongoing thing in terms of women being left out of important movements. I appreciated that take on it and i just loved that the titles of the episodes are Bible verses. It makes people pull out the Bible and say: ‘what is that Bible verse all about?’. I’m thinking: when was the last time there was a show that made you want to pull out the Bible and do that? Because that’s what we were doing, we said “ok, let’s look this up” and were looking it up while we were watching it. My brothers were doing it too and it was really, really nice to pull out the Bible together and look it up and discuss it. I thought that was so different and I’d never done that with a show before.
BT: Another thing that you don’t really encounter on shows is a group of international women at the forefront and also behind the camera. You don’t see that in shows.
TT: Yeah, because they would always do one, one woman, and they might do two, but to have five warriors alone, and our leading cast was mostly women. I loved that, it’s great.
BT: You must be getting a lot of positive reactions online and from family & friends. They must be so proud of you.
TT: Yes, they are, so much so that I have to watch it with everybody. [laughs] I have to watch it with each family, no matter where they are, they won’t watch it without me. I tell them it’s OK, but they’re like “no, we have to watch it together!”. So yes, I have to do my own tour within my family and watch it with them and see them freaking out.
BT: So how many times have you seen it now?
TT: I am on the seventh viewing today. [laughs] To be fair, I did watch it on my own four times. I have fanned out on myself a couple of times, as I have on the show. I love it! But yeah, I have to finish watching it with my brother today and then I have to go over to my Dad’s house later today and watch it with him. My Dad is going to freak out.
BT: Watching it back, are there certain scenes that are your favourites?
TT: I love when I beat the guy up in the alley. Anything where I’m beating someone up is my favourite, so when I’m beating him up in the alley, when I spin around and shoot Macready. I’m shocked at how badass I look! From the stunt woman on down, everyone made me look more badass than I ever have been or ever will be. And this may seem so terrible, but I love when I kick Ava off the cliff. [laughs] That’s one of my favourite scenes, I feel so badly! But I just love that whole scene.
BT: In fairness, you do kick two people off a cliff.
TT: Oh my goodness! Oh. Oh my! Yeah, you’re right. Macready goes off the cliff. Yeah, there’s something about cliffs. I’m sure it’s a backstory thing. Hmm, I wonder if my father would take me places, he’s a hired killer, and he’d shoot or kick people off of cliffs. I don’t know. We need to get into that, there must be something there.
BT: There’s definitely a lot more that we need to learn about Shotgun Mary.
TT: Yes! Same. I would love that. Let’s go!
BT: This show ends on such a cliffhanger. Is Mary OK? I need to know!
TT: [laughs] Is Mary OK, that is the question. I don’t know. Of course I want to say yes, that she’s OK, but I”m worried about what kind of state she’d come back in after that. Ooh, I’m wondering what that would do to the dynamic of the group if Shotgun Mary does come out of it alive. How will she be to the group? Because we see how Lilith is. Yeah, it’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be crazy. I want her to be OK! I don’t think she should go out like that. She still has to whoop Father Vincent’s ass. We can decide what happens to her after that happens.
BT: That was another moment that I was not expecting – the twist regarding Father Vincent.
TT: It’s so hurtful. It’s so painful. For her to have Shannon, she was very close to Shannon, and then Father Vincent was more than just the Charlie of the group – he was like a Father to her and she would do anything for him, you know? And so she loses Shannon and she thinks she just has him, and yeah, it’s so sad. And now I’m thinking about everything that she said in the cave, that he pretty much saved me, and she told that to Ava! What is Ava supposed to think about the group now?! [laughs] After all of that talk of “you can trust this man and we’re OK”, it’s so much work that needs to be done now!
BT: I loved the little side trip episode with Shotgun Mary and Ava. It’s such a beautiful interlude. What was your experience like working with Alba?
TT: It was really great personally and professionally because what was happening in the episode was our chance to get to know each other on and off screen because before that we had different shooting schedules and we just never shot together. So it was really nice to get to know one another and have that time by ourselves. It was like our own mini vacation, you know? And we bonded. In the time that we had, we really bonded and that was really nice. She’s very smart and charismatic and just very sweet. I think our partnerships in the scenes was better than I expected because we didn’t know each other. But we bonded right away.
BT: By the end, I could really feel the close bond of sisterhood between your character and those of Alba, Kristina, Lorena, and Olivia. Tell me about establishing that bond with the group.
TT: I remember when we first got together before any shooting happened, we tried to go on as many dinners as we could and we would cook at each other’s houses. We’d have mini dinner parties and then go on walks on the beach. Whenever we got together it was just a lot of fun. When it came to shooting separately, we were very serious, but when we got together we were so silly. We just had such a good time, which we needed because a lot of places that we filmed at, I’m certain that they were haunted. [laughs] For sure they were haunted! For example, in Cat’s Cradle they used to hang women who they thought were witches, and the energy in that place was heavy! But yeah, we were each other’s rock when we needed it, and we needed it a lot. Especially for me being in that country by myself and away from family, especially with the different time zones where I couldn’t talk to anybody back home like I wanted to.
BT: I assume it was a very physically demanding role too.
TT: Yes. [laughs] I definitely tightened up and lost a lot of weight doing the show. I was pretty physical before but it was like being an athlete. It felt like I was going into an arena. I was pushing my body, for sure.
BT: Do you still keep in touch with the ladies?
TT: Yeah! People might not believe it but Lorena and I live next to each other. We ended up moving to L.A. together and finding a place. We’re like sisters in real life, I love her.
BT: I know you’ve been watching a lot of Warrior Nun, but what else have you seen recently that you’ve really liked?
TT: [laughs] Oh my goodness, yes! I have really been enjoying Watchmen, of course! That penultimate episode is poetry on screen. I’ve gotten into Euphoria – I don’t want to tell you how many times I’ve seen Euphoria! And you know, it’s not an obsession, it’s just the way it is. I have seen Euphoria 14 times. Yeah. I introduce people to the show and want to watch it with them. [laughs] I thought it was so visually stunning and I’d never seen anything like it before. And, you know, quarantine! I have an excuse. I am not obsessed. [giggles] I’m studying it, it’s research, even though my acting teacher said that if it’s more than two times watching it, it’s no longer research, it’s obsession. As far as Warrior Nun goes, who knows how many times I’ll end up watching that. [laughs]
BT: You’re proud of your work, as you should be.
TT: Thank you for that!
BT: Do you have a dream role?
TT: Yes, that is a very good question. I really, really want to be in a Western. I also want to be the next villain in Black Panther. Let’s go! That would be amazing! Yeah, you know what I mean?! Get me into that universe! They have this character named Madam Slay and I’m like “give me that!”. I just want to play all the roles with the badass names. Give me Shotgun Mary, give me Madam Slay, let’s go! So yeah, that would be awesome to be a part of the Black Panther universe. It’s iconic.
Warrior Nun is now streaming on Netflix